A collaborative COVID-19 response created by a group of Lethbridge community organizations back in the spring has drawn international attention.
The Lethbridge Helping Organizations COVID-19 Response was introduced in March, when a committee decided to reach out to dozens of community organizations, creating an information hub over an online platform called Slack.
Rob Miyashiro, city councilor and executive director of the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization, was one of the members who submitted their application to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO then selected the Lethbridge initiative to be profiled.
Miyashiro says having Slack as a tool was extremely valuable and made their efforts possible.
“From the time we started Slack to a couple weeks ago, we had over six thousand contacts on that platform,” Miyashiro said.
“Which, if you did it on another kind of platform it would be unmanageable.”
In total, around 50 community groups, including non-profits, Indigenous groups, city staff and library personnel were able to connect regarding the needs of the community and break into sub-groups.
According to the report, local food groups were able to increase their delivery by around 20 per cent from the start of the pandemic; increased wellness checks and food hampers were provided to the elderly, and new programs were started for families.
As well, due to increased lack of mobility during the pandemic, all supports were available in conjunction with disability services.
“Any group that might need help during that COVID shut down or during the pandemic, we broke ourselves into those groups and then we just went to work,” Miyashiro said.
Amanda Jensen, executive director with Volunteer Lethbridge, says the pandemic allowed them to start a new seniors program, and seeing all sorts of organizations come together wasn’t a surprise.
“When you start with a firm foundation of trust and lack of turf protection and all those things, respect of each other, it just makes it that much easier to jump in and serve together as a unit when something like this does arise,” Jensen said.
As well, the WHO recognized the success of one of the community’s mutual support pages on Facebook.
Run by the Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group (LPIRG), the page began as a small space, but has now grown to nearly 5,000 members from Lethbridge and surrounding area.
“The initial idea was that it would be a small Facebook group that a few friends could help each other out by delivering meals, picking up medication, kind of those daily activities that you can’t do when you self-isolate,” said executive director of LPIRG Jenn Prosser.
“We were able to relay what was being said online through the Facebook group to these amazing, incredible service organizations that we have throughout the city, but we were also able to bring back information from those conversations to the public.”
While Prosser says the initial growth in the page was seen before Alberta’s economic relaunch when many businesses were closed and the pandemic was new to the community, the recent spike in cases has shown the continued need for such supports.
Other cities recognized by the WHO for COVID-19 ingenuity include Limerick, Moscow, Oakland, and Seoul.